What Should I Know about My Kid’s Video Games? Drew Dixon
When it comes to your kid's video games, it can be hard to know what you should know. Expert Drew Dixon offers ways to navigate thoughtfully and wisely.
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When it comes to your kid’s video games, it can be hard to know what you should know. Expert Drew Dixon offers ways to navigate thoughtfully and wisely.
What Should I Know about My Kid’s Video Games? Drew Dixon
Drew: A lot of parents are ready to throw up their hands about video games. I think you see one of two things. Parents either, around the video game conversation, say, “Okay, we’re done! I’m fed up! Every video game is going in the trash!” [Laughter] I’ve heard stories of parents running over video game consoles with the lawn mower. [Laughter]
But there’s another temptation to just say, “Well, fine! You want to play video games? Play them all you want!” And that doesn’t work. Kids don’t know how to self-regulate, and that just makes the problem worse. They need you to lovingly step in.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Alright; you know my favorite moment of Thanksgiving last year?
Ann: I have no idea.
Dave: No idea?
Ann: No idea.
Dave: It was in the kitchen; you watched it.
Ann: I watched it?
Dave: Yes; our oldest son, C.J., came over with his wife, Robin, and he brought “Oculus.”
Drew: Oh, yes!
Dave: He owns it. [Laughter]
Dave: And if you’re listening, and you don’t know what that is, it’s VR; it’s virtual reality. You put it on. I literally was playing the Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs at Ford Field. I had never done this, you know, with this technology. Do you remember?
Ann: I do remember.
Dave: I mean, I put it on; and you’re standing on the sideline in Ford Field, which I did every Sunday for 30 years. It was actually like it was—I mean, I turned and looked, and there was the crowd behind me—you look at the scoreboard.
And the reason we’re talking about this is: we’ve got Drew Dixon back with us, who wrote Know Thy Gamer, a book about helping parents, like us, navigate this whole video game world. Often—and we talked about this a little bit yesterday—sometimes, parents think this video game world is a horrible thing. I just told a story: it can be fascinating!
Ann: —and fun!
Dave: Yes, fun. So, Drew, welcome back!
Drew: Yes, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
Dave: I mean, have you done the “Oculus” thing? Have you done VR?
Drew: I have. I’ve played a little bit of VR. I don’t own one myself; but yes, I’ve played it at conventions and things, at friends’ houses.
Dave: I was so into it; I said, “Where do I buy one of these? [Laughter] How much do they cost?” And I’ll just borrow my son’s, because they’re too expensive.
Dave: Well, we talked yesterday a little bit about—tell us again what Love Thy Nerd is—
Dave: —that’s an incredible ministry.
Drew: Yes; it’s called Love Thy Nerd. My book is Know Thy Gamer. The ministry that I work with is called Love Thy Nerd. Yes, Love Thy Nerd exists to be the love of Jesus to nerds and nerd culture. We look for ways to step into nerd spaces and come alongside nerds—not to judge them for what they’re into; not to judge people who are into comics, or video games, or anime, or board games—but to speak their language and point them to Jesus.
Dave: Honestly, I know of no other ministry doing this. Is it pretty unique?
Drew: Yes, there are definitely some other nerd ministries out there—they’re doing great work in the space, too—but it is unique. I think Love Thy Nerd is certainly reaching people that so many churches don’t reach or won’t reach and, certainly, reaching people that a lot of ministries aren’t even thinking about reaching. Yes, I think we, at Love Thy Nerd, kind of view games as almost as an unreached people group, you know? There are billions of them in the world, and we ought to be thinking about how we might reach them and love them.
Ann: Parents are all scratching their heads, thinking, “Wait! Do I have a nerd? Is my child a nerd, because they’re playing video games all the time?”
Drew: Yes; I mean, it’s no longer “uncool” to be a nerd.
Drew: Being a geek or a nerd is embraced in a lot of spaces, especially among young people. I think it’s a huge, huge opportunity.
Dave: Why is it that so many parents think video games are bad/they’re wrong? And again, like anything else, they can be good and bad. But I think there’s, at least—and you would know, as the expert—there’s a perspective in the church that video games aren’t good:—
Dave: —“You should discourage your kid from it.” I know a pastor, who says, “Any man who plays video games isn’t a real man,”—like—“Go have a real battle rather than battle on a TV screen.”
Drew: Yes, right.
Dave: There are sort of loud voices, out there, who are saying that. You’re saying, “No, there’s a balance to that,” right?
Drew: Yes, for sure! They’re part of God’s good creation. We should be careful not to label things as categorically evil if that’s not what they are. So, just on the one hand, I think it’s dishonest to say they’re all problematic or they’re all evil—
Dave: —there are some!
Drew: Yes, there are some—
Dave: —that you stay away from, right?
Drew: Yes, yes; for sure. I mean, I’m never going to let my kids play “Grand Theft Auto”; it’s not happening.
Drew: —because the content in that game, to me, is dehumanizing. It objectifies human beings, and it encourages—it sort of makes it look like it’s fun or funny—to see sinful things being done, right?
Ann: As I’m hearing that, as a mom, I’m thinking, “Oh, I need to make sure I’m checking what video games my kids are playing—
Drew: Yes, absolutely.
Ann: —“and they’re rated.”
Drew: Yes; there are some great resources out there to help you determine what’s appropriate for your kids. The rating system is a great place to start. ESRB.org is a good website to know. Another great website that I like a lot—it’s not a Christian website, but it’s really helpful—is CommonSenseMedia.org. It’s a great place to go to read parental reviews of video games. You can read what a parent thinks about “Call of Duty,” or “Fortnight,” or whatever.
Drew: Another great resource is Twitch or YouTube. More people have heard of YouTube, but Twitch is where you can watch people playing video games. The reason I say that it’s a great resource for parents is because you can get on Twitch and just search for whatever game it is your kids are wanting to play. Then you can watch people play it.
Ann: Oh! Yes.
Drew: If you watch five minutes of the newest “Call of Duty,” you’re going to get a good sense of if that game has violence, or language, or whatever it is that you’re concerned about as a parent, so that’s a great way. YouTube’s a great place, too, because you can go watch video clips on YouTube of people playing a video game. You don’t have to spend very much time, and you can kind of see what the vibe of a particular game is.
Ann: Are parents—I mean, there’s so much violence going on; there are school shootings—should we be concerned about that?
Drew: Yes, human beings, in general, are pretty good at differentiating the real world from the virtual one. That said, I am not at all here to say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Violent video games don’t matter.” I think everything that we consume has some kind of impact on us.
Drew: So I want to say to parents: “Be careful,” “Be cautious,” and “Develop an understanding, through your relationship with your kid, about what’s appropriate for them.”
Drew: I think curiosity is, maybe, the most important tool when it comes to video games and your kids—well, really, anything that they’re into that you don’t understand—just try to be curious. Because the goal of parenting is, not just to get them to do everything you want them to do, but the goal is to build their life on a relationship of love and trust with your kids that points them to Jesus.
Drew: Ask them: “Why do you like this?” “Why are you into this?” Because those are questions of curiosity that lead to relationships and deepen your relationship with them. If they can tell that you care—that you’re invested and that you love them—then, when you say, “Hey, I’m concerned about how much you’re playing,” they’re more likely to listen and for that to actually be a productive conversation than if you’re just trying to get them to jump through whatever hoop.
It's so easy to have this sort of mentality about our kids, where it’s, “Well, I’ll spend time with them if they do what I like to do.”
Dave: Yes, let’s do what they want to do!
Drew: Yes, “We’ll play fantasy football. Let’s set up a Fantasy Football League”; and it doesn’t matter that your kid hates football, right? [Laughter]
I think part of what it means to parent well is to do what Jesus did. He took on human flesh and dwelt among us—get on their level—get into things that they’re into. It might not be video games; it might be ballet. If you have no context for ballet, learn.
Drew: Be a student of your kids. Study them and what they’re into. That’s a really simple way to demonstrate love and care and to build the relational capital to be able to speak up and say, “Hey, I’m concerned about this video game that you’re playing,” or “…who you’re dating,” [Laughter] or whatever, right?
Ann: Yes, yes.
Drew: Yes. What do we need, as adults, to fight overindulgence or addiction? We need accountability and conversation; we need people who will help us follow after Jesus.
Drew: And then, we need to talk about the things that we’re worried about. If you’re worried about, maybe, a media addiction of your own, as an adult, you talk to a friend about it; or you talk to your spouse. You say, “Do you think I’m spending too much time on Netflix®? Tell me honestly; I’ll listen.”
Drew: That’s how you grow, right?
Drew: And that’s what our kids need: they need accountability in the form of boundaries; and then, they need conversation [with] parents who are curious, engaged, respectful, and kind to your kids—not just expecting respect in return—it’s a two-way street.
A lot of parents are ready to throw up their hands about video games. I think you see one of two things. Parents either, around the video game conversation, say, “Okay, we’re done! I’m fed up! Every video game is going in the trash!” [Laughter] I’ve heard stories of parents running over video game consoles with the lawn mower. [Laughter]
But there’s another temptation to just say, “Well, fine! You want to play video games? Play them all you want!” I think parents can get so overwhelmed with everything they don’t understand in our digital age that they just say, “Fine! Go for it.” And maybe, they’ll make themselves sick. It’s like if [they] eat too much candy, maybe your kids will learn not to eat too much candy. [Laughter] That doesn’t work.
Dave: It doesn’t work that way.
Drew: Again, kids don’t know how to self-regulate, and that just makes the problem worse. They need you to lovingly step in—communicate—again, it’s that issue of accountability and conversation. Set some boundaries and just keep talking with them. Yes! They’re going to be annoyed by the fact that you keep talking to them, but that’s your job! That’s why God gave you kids, so that you can talk to them. How are you going to point your kids to Jesus without talking to them, right?
Ann: I think, when we throw up our hands and say, “I can’t even—I’m done!” what can be communicated is: “You’re hopeless,” “You’re hopeless; this situation is hopeless.” I think my parents, sometimes, if I was disappointing them, said, “We’re done!” I remember feeling: “I must be such a failure that they’ve given up hope on me.”
Drew: Yes! That’s an excellent point!
Ann: I don’t think our kids—we don’t want them to feel that—and man, if they’re under our roof, we’re in the battle with them. As you said, they can’t self-regulate. We can barely self-regulate at times! So I think to stay in the game.
I like what you said, too, even as adult parents, have friends who are helping us, like: “How are you guys dealing with your gamer? What does that look like?”—or social media, or whatever your child is struggling with, or what they’re participating in. To have other friends, as godly Christians, who are trying to follow Jesus: “What are you guys doing that works?” I think that’s helpful.
Dave: We have a staff member, Ryan Guinee—and he’s a gamer and a dad—and he would love to ask you a question; so here it goes:
Ryan: Hey, Drew. Thanks for coming on to FamilyLife Today. My name’s Ryan. I’m 32, and I grew up in the gaming culture; it was a huge part of my life. My friends and I would get together on the weekends and see how far we could get through a game that we rented from Blockbuster®.
Obviously, games have changed a lot now; I can play online with people. The need to gather—and have a land party or something, playing “Age of Empires”—those days are long gone. [Now it’s] sitting in a room alone, playing online. We’re connected, but we’re distanced. It’s just a microcosm of what we’re seeing in social media. What would you have to say about the place that games have in our lives with our friends? Can it still serve us well, or do you think it’s keeping us more disconnected?
Drew: That is a really good question; I love this question. What I love most about video games is that they’re playgrounds. I make the argument in the book that I think playgrounds are beautiful spaces. They’re gifts from God because, on the playgrounds, we learn how to interact socially with other kids. When you’re a kid, and you’re out there—playing tag, or cops and robbers, or whatever it is you play on the playground—you’re learning social cues; you’re learning how to interact; you’re building a world together and all abiding by the rules of this game. It's just a great space for connection and growth.
The beautiful thing about video games is it takes that idea of the playground and makes it a lot more accessible. Not everybody lives in a community, where it’s safe to play outside with other kids. That’s a cool thing about video games; it takes that idea of the playground and makes it more accessible. We can all get on at any time—we don’t have to go anywhere—we can all do it from the safety of our own homes, right?
There’s a potential there for connection. The connections we forge with people online through video games are not inherently less meaningful than the connections we make face to face. They are impoverished, though, right?—there’s not the same level—if I’m playing with you online, I can’t see your face; I can’t see how you’re reacting; I don’t know what’s going on in your life. Whereas, if we sit down for lunch, there’s a deeper connection there.
I think God created us for that kind of face-to-face connection, and we need—I think as followers of Jesus—we need to protect that and elevate that. I’m kind of old-school in the sense of there are people out there doing online churches and stuff; I think, “That’s not the church.” That’s kind of what I want to say!
Dave and Ann: Yes.
Drew: We need to go to the same space—be in the same room; hear each other sing; take real bread together in communion, you know?
Ann: It feels different when you’re there in person rather than online.
Ann: I agree.
Drew: Yes, for sure. I wouldn’t say we need to be so concerned that we think that those connections aren’t meaningful—they are—when people connect online, it’s still meaningful; it’s still important. There’s opportunity there for mission for the glory of God and for the good of the world; but at the same time, I think we just need to, on the other hand, to hold onto this idea of face-to-face personal communication and relationship and say, “I’m not letting go of this! We have to make time.” It’s a sacrifice to physically go to church or to meet for coffee even; just to go to lunch with a friend is a sacrifice. We have to hold onto that, because I think God created us for that kind of connection.
Dave: And sometimes, it’s easier to sit on your couch—I’m not talking just about playing the game—and watch online church, because going to church is messy.
Dave: It’s messy! You know, people are going to bug you—and the parking lot, getting in and out—you name it! I can sit here, and I can watch—the same thing with a video game—but there’s that connection.
Here’s how you end the book, and I want to end today with your thoughts on “Games Are Mission.” That’s a chapter title: “Games Are Mission.” What do you mean?
Drew: Yes; well, I think we see a picture of Jesus, in the Gospels, looking for ways to spend time with sinners/with broken people. The example I use is [that] Jesus is accused of being a glutton and a drunk because He hung out with gluttons and drunks. He hung out with people who ate to excess or drank to excess. Jesus was neither—He wasn’t a glutton or a drunk—but He deliberately spent time with those types of people; because He came not for the righteous, but to bring sinners to repentance, right?
So we have to have some means—I think if we’re going to live out the Great Commission—we have to think of ways to build relationships with people who are not like us. It’s really difficult today because we’re so—I shouldn’t say it’s the most politically divided time or whatever; there were more divided times in history/in human history—but it feels very divided; it feels like it’s getting worse.
Drew: Social media is making it worse, and it’s so hard to be in the same room with people that you don’t see eye to eye with. That’s what’s beautiful—that’s one of the most beautiful things about video games—everybody comes to the table on equal terms; we’re all signing up to abide by the rules of “Madden NFL Football,”right? [Laughter] You can’t change the rules of it—we all have to abide by it—and it’s an opportunity to connect around something. When you’re playing a game with people, they’re usually not asking—we’re not going to have to get into politics—we’re just going to play a game and have fun. What happens when you play games with other people—and it doesn’t have to be video games; take board games—board games are a great way to connect with other people.
Here’s an example, maybe: invite your neighbor to church—whom you’ve hardly talked about before; you hardly have a relationship with this neighbor—and you’re saying, “Hey, come to my church!” “Um, I don’t think so; your church sounds weird.” Or they just have baggage, right?
Drew: A lot of people have baggage with the church; they’re thinking, “Um, I’ve done that; I didn’t like it.”
You say, “Hey, come over for dinner, and we’ll play a board game.” That’s a whole different invite. It has the potential to lead to the kind of relational capital with that person; and then, eventually, when their spouse is in the hospital or something, to say, “Hey, I’m praying for you. Can I bring you a meal?” Then that leads to talking about Jesus; that leads to real connection.
Video games provide us an opportunity—they put us on common ground—they give us common vernacular. If you know someone’s really into something, what do you do? You talk to them about it; because that’s a ticket to relationship, which I think is key to the mission God has given us.
Drew: We’re good at this with certain things in the church. We’re good at it when it comes to sports. There’s no church out there that says, “No! We shouldn’t have a Super Bowl party!” Well, there are. [Laughter] But a lot of churches say, “Yes, let’s have a Super Bowl party! It’s a way to minister to our community. It’s a way to build connection.”
But why aren’t we thinking about that with video games? Why aren’t we thinking about how this could be an opportunity for mission?
Dave: Like you said, it’s a vehicle to bring neighbors together. I mean, you say in the last section of your book, “If Jesus were here now, He would probably play video games with His neighbor.” It’s like, “What?!” [Laughter] But you’re right; why wouldn’t He?
Ann: It’s entering their world.
Dave: Again, He’s going to be careful about what games He’s going to play—
Drew: I want to be careful about speaking for Jesus!
Drew: But based on the example from the Gospels, I think He would look for ways—
Dave: I mean, whatever vehicle God gives you with your neighbor or even a stranger. I remember, I played in a celebrity golf outing. I get paired up with four people I don’t even know. As soon as they found out I was a pastor—because they asked me: “Who are you, and why are you our celebrity?” It was only because I knew the celebrity; and he said, “Oh, I’ll get…” [Laughter] Long story short, when they found out I was a pastor, the first thing they said—do you know what they said? —“Oh, great!” [Laughter] The guy said, “We can’t drink, and we can’t curse.” That’s what he said! Because there was going to be alcohol on the course. I joked, and I said, “Well, it’s even worse; I’m not a very good golfer either; so let’s go!” [Laughter]
Drew, as we played this round of golf for a couple of hours, I had one goal: “I want them to love today. Whatever happens, at the end of this day, I want them to say, “I want to play with that guy again!” I wanted to be [like] Jesus. Jesus would make this a joyous day! Guess what? At the end of the day, they said, “Dude! If you’re here next year, you’re our celebrity!” [Laughter] And I thought, “That’s the goal! That I would love them in such a way that they think, ‘Christians are cool!’ because I represented Jesus at that moment.”
Dave: If you’re playing a video game with somebody—it’s the same thing—"I’m in your world; you’re in my world. Man, I want to love you in a way that you want me to come to your house to play a video game, and I want you to come to my house to play a video game.”
Dave: That’s sort of the mission, right?
Drew: Yes; and you know, Jesus said hard things in the Gospels; but it was almost always in the context of the people who were already following Him. But when He goes to the houses of sinners and tax collectors and stuff, He’s making things more fun and more joyful. I mean, He’s turning water into wine to prolong a dying party; and He’s eating with sinners, and tax collectors, and prostitutes—and all kinds of people that would make us very uncomfortable to eat with—but He’s doing it to point them to Jesus.
I want to be really careful to say: “I’m not saying to just go play whatever video game. You should have personal boundaries for yourself of what’s appropriate for you. And you should think about your witness in all that you do. What I am saying is I think there’s an opportunity, in the world of video games, to play video games responsibly in a way that’s going to lead to mission. It’s going to lead to you connecting other people to Jesus who, otherwise, wouldn’t want anything to do with Him.”
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott; you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Drew Dixon on FamilyLife Today. We’re going to hear more from Ann in just a second with some encouragement for the parent, who’s maybe worried about their kid’s playing too many video games; but first, I just wanted to say I love that perspective of thinking about engaging with people through the avenue of something like video games. It’s not something we typically think about, but doing something like that intentionally to help others see the beauty of Jesus in us. That’s really, really cool.
Drew has written a book called Know Thy Gamer: A Parent’s Guide to Video Games. You know, in today’s digital age, monitoring kids online and their activities when they’re on social media is just increasingly complex, and it’s also very important. Well, Drew is here to help you with that in his book. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on “Today’s Resources” to get your copy of Drew Dixon’s Know Thy Gamer. Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Ann: This has been a really good and helpful conversation. Let me just speak to—as one mom, who used to lie in bed at night, worrying that my boys were playing too many video games, and wondering: “Do I have enough boundaries going on?” and “Are we doing a good job with this, talking through it?”—let me remind you, too, to not stop praying for your kids. Ask Jesus for wisdom and be praying for them specifically. Be really honest with the Lord: “Lord, I’m struggling! I’m not sure how to do this.” So I would say: “Don’t stop praying for your kids! Be involved in their lives!” I know that you hear this all the time—people say it flies by—but it really does, so engage while they’re under your roof. It’s worth it!
Dave: And I’ll tell you this: come back tomorrow, because we’re not going to let Drew go away. [Laughter] We’re going to talk about “Five Things Parents Shouldn’t Do with Their Gamer Kid.” You don’t want to miss this one.
Shelby: You know, if you enjoyed today’s conversation, or found it particularly helpful for what you’re wrestling with—as a parent, or a husband, or a wife—I just wanted to let you know that FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported ministry. We have people who partner with us in order to make this program happen, and I want to invite you to participate in that partnership. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com to give there by clicking on the ”Donate Now” button at the top of the page, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Or you can feel free, also, to drop us something in the mail; we’d love to hear from you that way. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Now, tomorrow, Drew Dixon is going to be back again with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about the five don’ts when parenting a gamer. Now, there are going to be five of them; I’m going to give you just one. One is: “Don’t just use the on/off switch.” What are the other four? You’re going to have to tune in tomorrow to figure that out. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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